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Money News

'How it's going ...' Goldman executive's email on racial inequality in America

(Reuters) - Frederick Baba, a managing director at Goldman Sachs who is black, sent the following email to colleagues at the bank on June 2:

“To everyone who’s asked me some variant of “how’s it going?” over the past month, I’ve probably lied. Or lacked the words to articulate it fully, but I’m giving it a shot. Obviously my experience is just one along a continuum of black experiences, and I don’t presume to speak for all black people (or even all black people at Goldman Sachs). But the past few months have been demoralizing, and family/friends/colleagues I’ve spoken with and listened to across the firm and country seem to share this feeling. Being black has been nothing if not instructive. I’ve learned history and why people live where they do and why those in positions of power often don’t look like me. I’ve learned that bad things are more likely to happen to black people solely because they’re black. I learned which of my friends’ parents didn’t want me in the house growing up and who would be blamed if my friends broke the law. I’ve learned how to prove intelligent, to prove not threatening, to prove innocent after being assumed guilty. To prove human as this country litigates my personhood in case after case. As if our lives are expendable but we could never rebuild a Louis Vuitton store or a burned out Target. As if MLK’s nonviolent philosophy allowed him to opt-out of death by white supremacy. As if COVID ravaging minority communities is an acceptable, inevitable cost, and our lives just aren’t worth the points off GDP. It’s a lot.

“My family immigrated to the US in 1990; this weekend I realized that my earliest memory in the US was the assault on Rodney King (where a group of LAPD officers struck an unarmed citizen some 50 times and kicked him 8 times during a traffic stop in March 1991). The officers involved lied about the incident, which was captured on film by an amateur photographer. I remember seeing the video, footage from the protests, and King’s famous “can we all get along?” statement. Four officers were charged; all were eventually acquitted. Two weeks prior Soon Ja Du, an LA convenience store owner shot 15 year old Latasha Harlins in the back of the head. Du accused Harlins of attempting to steal a $1.79 bottle of orange juice; Harlins had cash-in-hand and police concluded that Harlins intended to pay. Du accused Harlins of stealing and grabbed her arm, Harlins punched Du, and Du shot Harlins as she attempted to leave the store. The jury found Du guilty of voluntary manslaughter and recommended the maximum sentence of sixteen years jail time. The trial judge overruled the jury recommendation, stating that Du behaved “inappropriately” but understandably. Du was sentenced to five years’ probation, 400 hours of community service, and a $500 fine. An appeals court upheld the ruling 3-0 on April 21, 1992. A week later all four officers were acquitted in the King case, kicking off six days of protests which resulted in 63 deaths and eclipsed the city’s Watts protests of 1965. As then the situation centered around violence against people of color with seeming impunity.

“A decade later, while I was living in Cincinnati, 19-year old Timothy Thomas was killed by a Cincinnati Police officer during a police pursuit in April of 2001. Thomas was pursued for 10 minutes by nine officers over 14 non-violent minor offenses, of which 12 were traffic violations. Thomas suddenly came in contact with a CPD officer, surprised, shot and killed Thomas at point blank range. The officer allegedly believed that Thomas was reaching for a gun, although subsequent investigations determined that he was likely adjusting his baggy pants. As is common in these cases, Thomas’s life and death hinged on an officer’s distinction between being uncomfortable and being afraid. And like many of these cases, the officer’s claimed belief of bodily danger legitimized the use of deadly force. The protests lasted five days and centered around Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine district, which was a predominantly black, heavily policed community where the shooting took place. The median household income in Over-the-Rhine was about $8,600 at the time but has since become whiter and wealthier through to gentrification. The Thomas incident also kicked off a local debate sometimes described as “respectability politics,” with some black leaders blaming black culture for Thomas’s death and advocating behavioral changes. The issue was not the extra-judicial killing of a US citizen over “driving without a license” citations; it was a lack of respect for law and order. If we as black people changed our behavior, pulled our pants up, and were respectable, all our problems would be answered. If our parents took a firmer hand, beat us when needed, and policed our behavior, law enforcement officials wouldn’t have to. But NYPD officers discharged 41 rounds Amadou Diallo despite his being unarmed and having committed no crime.

“A decade later in November 2011, while I was living in Chicago I was leaving a rec-league dodge ball game when I was approached by two Chicago police officers. They asked where I was coming from and I explained. They then then told me that I matched the description of an individual who had reportedly stolen from a residence in the area. The description was a black male in shorts and a t-shirt; nothing else. No color for either article of clothing, and in a city with just under 1 million black people I was obviously the culprit. I’d clearly spent too much time around hyper-rational people who respected me and knew where I went to school and how much money made. In a lapse of judgment I tried to explain how absurd it all was while presenting my ID and found myself slammed against the hood of a police cruiser. The officer who shoved me looked afraid more than anything, and while I was confident I could have taken both in a fair fight guns are scary so I worked to de-escalate the situation. I was basically living out my nightmare of at least the past 10 years, where I’d decide whether to deploy lethal force to defend myself from law enforcement. I’d previously decided that if things went left I would fight, rush to my apartment, call the legal counsel at my employer, and negotiate turning myself in. Fortunately de-escalating worked; the officers patted me down, jostled me a bit, emptied the contents of my wallet into the street one-by-one, and detained me for another ~20 minutes of shivering (I was in shorts and a t-shirt, standing outside in Chicago on a November evening). They finally let me go when another officer (possibly their superior) asked what they were doing and said ‘That’s not him.’

“I went home and I cried for the first time in years. Then I filed a report with the Chicago Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), complaint #1050215. Then I flew to London for a work trip, noted how well the Brits treated class-signaling blacks (obviously not the full story), and considered never coming back. But I returned to Chicago and gave an in-person statement. And I waited. And in February 2012 Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman. And I waited. And George Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013, impetus for the Black Lives Matter movement. And the head of IPRA resigned in 2013. And IPRA closed my complaint file claiming that their “findings of the events that occurred differed from the account provided” without further detail. And in June 2014 I moved to New York to start a new job at Goldman Sachs. And in July of 2014 Eric Garner was killed by NYPD officers who approached him on suspicion of selling “loosies” (individual cigarettes) without the proper tax stamps (the New York City + State excise tax is $5.85 for a pack of 20 cigarettes). In August of 2014 Michael Brown was killed after allegedly stealing a box of Swisher Sweet cigarillos (approx. value $15), initiating several weeks of protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

“And in 2015 news broke that the Chicago PD had been running a “black-site” undisclosed interrogation facility in the Homan Square neighborhood where over 7,000 civilians were detained since 2004; 80% of the detainees were black Americans. And the new head of IPRA resigned. And a city of Chicago lawyer resigned after burying evidence related to the killing of Darius Pinex by two CPD officers in 2011. The previous ruling (in which the shooting was deemed justified) was later thrown out, and a retrial was ordered.

“And some years passed, and the story played out several more times. And in 2018 Lorenzo Davis, a former IPRA investigator was awarded a $2.8mm settlement after a Cook County jury found that he was fired after refusing to change his recommendations re: police shootings he deemed unjustified (which was good-ish). And some years passed. And on February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was ambushed and killed by a former police officer and his son in Glynn County, Georgia. On March 13, 2020 Breonna Taylor was killed by Louisville Metro Police officers serving a ‘no-knock warrant’ related to two individuals already in police custody. Kenneth Walker (Taylor’s partner at the time) fired upon the officers with a licensed and then called 911 to report the home invasion and shooting of his girlfriend. Kenneth was initially charged with first-degree assault and attempted murder of a police officer (charges were dropped in May 2020). George Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds (while Floyd was hand-cuffed and lying face down). Floyd was extra-judicially killed on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a local market. And some NYPD SUVs drove through a crowd on Saturday. And some Minnesota police officers screamed “Light ‘em up!” before firing on a woman and her family while they stood on their front porch in accordance with the curfew.

“So as to how it’s going- it’s not great.

Fred

“p.s. That was heavy huh? Thanks for reading! I appreciate that many of you will seek to reach out, express solidarity, etc. And while that would be greatly appreciated, here are some things I’d appreciate even more:

- Reaching out to and supporting diverse analysts and associates within the firm; a common bit of feedback from our junior colleagues is that while our firm expresses a commitment to equality and social justice up top, they don’t necessarily see commitment and support from their direct managers (the VPs and MDs they interact with more regularly). I’ll be okay; look after them.

- Donate money to advocacy organizations (don’t want to violate firm policy here; MDs+ feel free to reach out for recommendations, happy to brainstorm with everyone else). Also worth noting that there are six times as many white Americans as black Americans (suspect even more skewed at GS). The more people we can get off the sidelines, the better.

- Donate time to same (obviously we’re all busy, isolating, etc; I wish I were better about this myself. Same point as above applies)

- Support minority-owned businesses. Policing is closely tied to class, just as socioeconomics are closely tied to race. Our society naturally defends vested economic interests, and while it won’t solve everything economic empowerment and sociopolitical empowerment are closely linked. And the inter-racial wealth gap is huge.

“p.s.s. As always, happy to chat about anything discussed above; feedback welcome. And if you’re one of the analysts/associates I mentioned above, please reach out to me.

“p.s.s.s. Also happy to share book recommendations, articles about race/experiences/social inequity; anti-racism materials for parents + regular folks; etc.”

Reporting by Imani Moise in New York and Sinead Cruise in London; Editing by Michelle Price and Grant McCool

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